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Conserve, NOW!
Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Other Environmental Costs by Offering Financial Incentives that Reward Less Driving, Flying and Home Energy Use

Michael T. Neuman
November 1, 2000
“For all practical purposes, there is today only one world suitable for man. Measured by nature’s standards rather than by those of historical man, it is at present a delicately balanced, highly perishable world that has evolved over long geologic epochs of environmental change. And man, acting as if he owned this world, or at least had come into leasehold possession of it, has played his role as lessee very indifferently…”
(Lyton Caldwell, 1971)


This paper provides the framework for offering temporary positive

voluntary financial incentives for reducing automobile driving, airplane

travel, and annual home energy use. While the paper is mostly focused on

reducing energy use in the State of Wisconsin, the methodology could be

applied nationally, or even worldwide.
In general, the main source of funding for the financial incentives would

be the savings in user fee revenue generated by not having to build the

additional highway, airport and energy plant capacity expansion projects.

The federal transportation fund, the aviation trust fund and public and

private energy utility accounts would fund the program.
After significant reductions in public motorized travel and home energy

use occur, “transportation fees”, as defined in this paper, could be

charged on commercial and industrial goods shipped long distances (by

truck, air or plane - thus burning up considerable fossil fuels), and the

revenue generated from that source could also be used to fund the

program, if necessary.
Finally, and ideally, it would be good, and right, if all investments in

military preparedness, throughout the world, could be phased out, and

eventually eliminated. This “phase out”, should begin no later than the

end of 2001. Complete abandonment of national militaries should be

scheduled for January 1, 2005.
The money generated by the phase out of military operations throughout

the world should be used to fund the Conserve, NOW! Program; thus

providing ample world financial resources to eliminate all world hunger,

world poverty, disease and ignorance (due to limited family funds for

education), for all the world’s citizens, and the world society as a

complete whole.
Offering world citizens and families “financial incentives” for low

annual driving miles traveled on highways, whether they choose to drive

at all or not, and for low (or no) annual flying miles traveled, and for

using less than typical therms of energy in their households, as defined

in this paper, would greatly reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions to

the atmosphere, by at least 25%, on a yearly basis.
Bringing into fruition a worldwide environmental mitigation strategy,

such as the strategy outlined in the text below, would help humankind

deal not just with one problem, but with many problems. The problems are

interrelated, to some degree, but not so much by the commonality of the

trouble they cause; but more importantly by the commonality of the

solution needed to abate them. Rather, than deal with each particular

problem and issue by itself, the Conserve, NOW! proposal would bring

forth a multifaceted, but uniform, attack on the many interrelated

problems that have grown and grown over time in the world, and now

threaten to annihilate the world, in its entirety.

Rapid Global Heating

Global warming of the Earth is now a certainty. Earth’s temperatures are rising, faster and faster each year. The reason is too much fossil fuel burning by a growing and ever more energy-dependent human population.
Burning fossil fuels for energy releases greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, others) to the air, which contributes to the growing stockpiling of those gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. The increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere ultimately increase the ability of the Earth’s atmosphere to capture and hold the Sun’s heat1. And since many of the greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for centuries, their concentrations continue to increase as more and more fossil fuels are burned on Earth, resulting in a stronger and stronger “greenhouse effect” in the Earth’s atmosphere, over time.
Each gallon of gasoline (or diesel fuel) combusted either in cars, trucks, boats, planes, recreational vehicles, equipment, etc., adds 22 additional pounds of carbon dioxide to the Earth’s atmosphere’s stockpile of greenhouse gases, where it will remain upwards of 120 years (Worrest, 2000).
Each ton of coal combusted in power plants or other furnaces adds 7,320 pounds of carbon dioxide to the Earth’s stockpile of atmospheric greenhouse gases, where it also will remain upwards of 120 years.
Each therm2 of natural gas combusted in furnaces or appliances adds 11 pounds of carbon dioxide to the Earth’s stockpile of greenhouse gases, where it, too, will remain upwards of 120 years.
Scientists now say global warming has actually been in progress for several decades already, but that various measurement complexities have prevented them from actually proving it. The rate of global warming has accelerated since the mid-1950s when it was first predicted. The continuously growing stockpile of greenhouse gases being added to the Earth’s atmosphere is making Earth’s atmosphere much more effective in “trapping” the Sun’s energy.
And scientists now say the rate at which Earth’s atmosphere is heating up is reason for worldwide concern; they are sounding the alarm for urgent, major action to slow global warming down, because the ultimate effect of continued global warming could conceivably be catastrophic to all Earth’s life forms3.
There is only one widely known and currently available method for slowing global warming down, immediately. That method is energy conservation. Energy conservation methods might include driving less; flying less, buying more energy efficient (and smaller) homes, automobiles and appliances; buying locally produced goods whenever, and wherever, possible; and greatly reducing (or eliminating) participation in recreational sports or activities that burn fossil fuels for energy.
Many energy conservation methods were employed by the public, with considerable success, in the-mid 1970’s and early 1980’s, in response to the “energy crisis” and relatively high fuel prices. Energy conservation was also successful during time of World War II, when conservation of fuel was necessary for the war effort. Energy conservation was successful then, and it can be successful now, to reduce the threat of continued global warming.
Energy conservation is the only realistic and economically feasible option for conserving energy in the next several years. The risk of humans failing to successfully slow global warming today far exceeds any imaginable or real economic or convenience losses that might have to be borne in the short term by today’s populous.
In time, alternative technologies are likely to be developed and available that will allow humans to use energy, without emitting dangerous levels of greenhouse gases to the Earth’s atmosphere. But that time has not yet arrived. Consequently, conservation of energy must begin immediately.
The effects of continuing to release substantial quantities of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, by burning fossil fuels or consuming electricity produced through fossil fuel burning, are cumulative and irreversible. “Reducing emissions is the most important action we can take now to minimize damage to people, ecosystems, and economies” (Bloomfield, 2000).
Increases in Automobile Driving in Wisconsin and U.S.
The population of the State of Wisconsin increased from 4.4 million in 1970 to 5.2 million in 1998, an 18% increase (Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, 1999). The number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT4) on Wisconsin highways increased from 21.9 billion VMT in 1970 to 50.4 billion VMT 1998, a 132% increase. (Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT), 1999) (Appendix A: Table 1).
The average family of 4 in Wisconsin traveled 19,880 miles in 19705. In 1998, they traveled 39,000 total miles, a 96% increase.
The per capita vehicle mileage that Wisconsin residents traveled in 1980 (including children and adults choosing not to drive) was 6,358 miles per capita. By 1998, this had increased to 9,680 miles per capita (excluding heavy trucks). Result: the average Wisconsin resident traveled 52 percent more miles in a vehicle in 1998 than the average Wisconsin resident traveled by auto in 1980.
The total highway vehicle passenger miles traveled in the U.S., excluding miles counted for heavy truck and bus travel, is estimated to be 3.8 trillion miles per year. The total VMT in the U.S. is estimated to be 2.36 trillion miles per year.6 (U.S. Department of Transportation (1997).
Costs of Providing for Increased Automobile Driving in Wisconsin and the U.S.
In 1999, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation proposed a plan to provide for the projected motor vehicle driving needs in Wisconsin through 2020 called Wisconsin State Highway Plan 2020 (WisDOT, 1999). The plan recommends $20 billion be spent on new state highway construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation and maintenance through 2020. The plan proposes approximately one third of the $20 billion ($7.3 billion) be used for new highway capacity expansion projects, for the purpose of accommodating increased driving by Wisconsin residents.
The cost of the plan is to be paid by users of the state and local highway system through fuel taxes and annual vehicle license fees.
The $7.3 billion is the monetary cost of building the new highway capacity expansion projects. It does not cover the cost of maintaining those new highways, nor does it cover the non-monetary “environmental cost” of building the new highways. The environmental cost of new highway development can be substantial.
New highway building generally creates a direct environmental cost as highway corridors often must be built through farmland, wildlife habitat, wetlands and other valuable natural and productive landscape. Indirect costs from improving travel on the highway are many and diffuse. They include: more air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions (from increased auto emissions); more vehicle travel noise, roadkills and possibly more human injuries and fatalities (because of increasing traffic levels), and, of course, more urban sprawl development.
Urban sprawl development is really nothing more than misplaced urban development. It is facilitated by improved highways because the added auto accessibility the improved highways provide makes longer auto commutes simpler, safer, and, of course, quicker.
Improved highways make it easier and safer for people to live outside of cities, yet retain reasonable access to the amenities and the services that cities traditionally provide (jobs, entertainment, shopping, etc.). In essence, improved highways enable commuters to take advantage of the city’s benefits, regardless of whether they reside or pay property taxes in the city, and irrespective of the environmental costs their automobile driving has on others in the afflicted communities along the way, or the Earth’s environment in general.
The quantity of carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere by automobiles traveling in Wisconsin was 17.6 million tons in 1970 (Table 2). In 1998, it was 26.0 million tons, an increase of 47%. For the foreseeable future, it will continue to increase with increasing levels of traffic.
The increased use and expansion of Wisconsin’s highway system through 2020, as approved by the Wisconsin DOT, will increase the quantity of greenhouse gas emitted to the atmosphere even more, since it removes impediments to driving more miles on the highway system. This method of addressing travel “needs” (building in more highway capacity) has traditionally been the most popular approach to dealing with increasing traffic problems in the United States (and elsewhere). But it clearly has come at considerable economic, social and environmental cost.
In contrast, providing incentives to bring about reductions in automobile travel would reduce traffic levels (estimated by up to 25%7), negating the need to build more highway infrastructure, and reducing the environmental and social costs of continuously increasing automobile and SUV driving throughout the state.
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